Issue of October 26, 2014
Mt. Province

Baguio Day Anniversary Issue
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When LGUs Cannot Be Fence-Sitters

Bizarre as it may seem, we are indebted to Rep. Nicasio Aliping, Jr. for drawing attention in a manner of saying to what seemed a systematic assault of Mt. Sto. Tomas by human activities that tended to diminish the integrity of the mountain as a forest reserve.

The solon did not start it all. Farm expansion, pocket mining, and squatting preceded him on the slopes. And on the area that he now calls his property once lived a German and several women who bore the foreigner several children, triggering the filing of complaints for child abuse that sent him packing into the unknown.

The filing of complaints against the solon for violations of Presidential Decree 705 as well as the filing of a petition for a Writ of Kalikasan by bishops Socrates Villegas and Carlito Cenzon arose from the gravity of earth-moving activities attributed to the congressman. The earth-moving activities, it can be said, provided just the exclamation mark in highlighting the destructive activities in the forest reserve.

These activities also prompted the filing of a complaint by the Baguio Water District that attributed the conta-mination of its wells and the Amliang Creek to the earth-moving activities.

Yet roughly three months since when the PD 705 cases were filed, the Department of Justice has yet to resolve whether there is ground to sue the congressman or not. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, did not take long to issue a temporary environmental protection order that directed the congressman to cease and to desist from pursuing his planned eco-tourism facility within the forest reserve.

The SC at the same time directed the Court of Appeals to oversee and to render judgment over the petition for a Writ of Kalikasan.

In retrospect, we are indebted as well to both the personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Catholic bishops for marshalling the courage in drawing up the complaints. The issuance of a TEPO is no laughing matter especially when the primary respondent is a public official sworn to uphold the rule of law. Without these legal remedies, it boggles the imagination what roller-coaster effects will ultimately ensue if the earth-moving activities are not stopped.

Yet they cannot do it alone. The other stakeholders must also step up to help ensure the protection of the forest reserve. The city government cannot just be a fence-sitter considering that it draws domestic water from the mountain. It should not wait for every well to be compromised before it decides to act.

The same can be said of the local government units of Tuba and Benguet where the forest reserve is located. They too must take concrete steps to show resolve that they are as deeply concerned and well-meaning as the complainants in protecting the environment. It is a fight they should have spearheaded in the first place.

The municipality of Bokod has shown that violators of PD 705 can be identified and subsequently charged given the cooperation of all stakeholders, to include concerned residents and barangay officials. Bokod incidentally is one of a few towns in the region that has an active anti-illegal logging task force working silently but surely to ensure that its watersheds are protected. It is a success story that is still unfolding but it is something to emulate and to build upon if Mt. Sto. Tomas is to be saved.

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